Permanent Mission of the European Union to
the World Trade Organization (WTO)

Local statement made by Ambassador João Aguiar Machado at the Heads of Delegation virtual meeting held on 17 April 2020

Brussels, 24/04/2020 - 14:19, UNIQUE ID: 200424_14
Local Statements

WTO HODs meeting of 17 April 2020 EU intervention

  1. Recognise the unprecedented character of the current crisis. Acknowledge the economic crisis that will follow the health crisis and stress that the WTO will have to play its part to support the recovery. Stress the importance of keeping global trade open and rules-based.
  2. Welcome initiative to convene this meeting. The EU is comfortable with the conduct of informal meetings through virtual means. Where decisions are required, we are open to the use of virtual platforms to take decisions, or alternatively to written procedures for the adoption of decisions. Inclusiveness is of course important, but it should be in capability of all Members to participate in videoconferences on a regular basis. It is urgent that the WTO resumes its work. For three main reasons:
  3. First, we need to ensure that we leverage our multilateral trade tools to mitigate the economic fallouts of this crisis. A first and critical step is ensuring transparency. The EU fully supports the WTO’s efforts and leadership in ensuring transparency about Members’ trade related response measures to the crisis and has actively contributed by notifying a set of measures taken at EU level on 7 April. These measures are fully in line with the G20 pledges to “facilitate trade  in  essential  goods” and to keep “emergency measures […] targeted,  proportionate,  transparent,  and  temporary”. The EU encourages all WTO Members to be particular diligent in notifying in a timely manner the measures taken in the context of the crisis. In a second step, we will need to discuss on what more the WTO can do to become instrumental to the economic recovery efforts.
  4. Second, we need to put our negotiation agenda back on track. In this respect, it is essential to quickly take a decision as regards to when MC12 will take place, so as to allow us to plan our work accordingly and define the forthcoming milestones between now and MC12. In this context, EU is supportive of a ministerial gathering end of 2020 with the view to address the Fisheries Subsidies negotiations.
  5. Third, the rights of parties in WTO disputes must be preserved. This includes in particular the right to have certain request granted within certain timeframes (like the request for the establishment of panels, adoption of reports, request to grant an authorization to suspend concessions or other obligations) unless there is consensus against such requests. This is why the DSB must resume its operations as soon as possible. The EU did not object to postponing the meeting foreseen for 30 March for pragmatic reasons, but only on a clear understanding that measures are being put in place for the DSB meetings to resume as soon as possible.
    If physical meetings remain impossible, in view of the restrictions put in place by the relevant authorities, measures must be put in place for the meetings to take place or DSB actions to be taken in another form. The EU therefore requests the WTO Secretariat to double its efforts in exploring the technical viability of conducting the DSB meetings through technical means of communication.  While such “virtual” meetings are not explicitly foreseen by the Rules of Procedure applicable to the DSB, the EU considers that a correct and pragmatic reading of the Rules of Procedures allows for such meetings.
    If however such meetings prove not possible in the short term for technical reasons, another available option would be to convene meetings on “negative consensus items” in the normal way, but with an instruction that, for health reasons, persons should not physically attend but would be invited to comment in writing on the requests made, including on the question of whether or not they “formally object” to such requests. This would be consistent with, and give effect to, the relevant provisions of the DSU.  
  6. Wish everyone well, including WTO Secretariat’s and Members’ Missions colleagues that have been personally affected. Reiterate EU support to the WTO for developing new ways of working in the coming weeks.
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